A short drive from Vesuvius, Manchester City stared into a volcano last night and were burnt; terribly burnt. They thought they were learning from this European journey but, as they trooped off through a wall of sound, their prospects of a place among the Champions League elite next spring had melted away, along with their reputation.
The Napoli manager had promised to give City "some bother" and was as good as his word. The result, which leaves City needing to beat Bayern Munich at home and see Napoli draw or lose at Villarreal, should have been even more embarrassing.
One experienced German observer's description of Villarreal, who lost 3-1 in Germany last night, said everything about the chances of the Spaniards helping City out next month: "Villarreal are beyond bad."
The same must be said for the way Roberto Mancini's side defended at times. The City manager changed his full-backs – Pablo Zabaleta for Micah Richards and Aleksandar Kolarov for Gaël Clichy – in the belief that they would not allow Napoli the space that has caught them out in Europe, but in Ezequiel Lavezzi and Edinson Cavani they found talents too great to handle. They can have no complaints. Without Sergio Aguero's 93rd-minute winner against the Spanish in October their campaign would already be over.
Napoli were irresistible in the opening half hour. They simply rolled through City in tidal waves of blue, benefiting from an ability to get their best players – the Argentine Lavezzi and the Uruguayan Cavani – heavily involved. Joe Hart had saved Cavani's firm header from Lavezzi's cross and seen the Argentine's shot fly narrowly wide.
The goal came from another of the kind of defensive calamities which have troubled City in their campaign. Cavani got a near-post head to Lavezzi's corner and the ball span in, wretchedly, off Kolarov's foot.
It is a sign of the journey City have made in this tournament, though, that they were able to steady themselves. As Napoli's threat receded in the 33rd minute David Silva was then given a split second for a shot which Morgan de Sanctis could only parry out for Mario Balotelli to tuck home.
Soon after half-time it was simply poor defending which allowed Napoli back in front. Andrea Dossena's overlapping run on the left went as undetected as Cavani's run into the City box, behind Zabaleta, to receive his cross and put the Italians back ahead with a sharply taken finish.
Hart kept the tie within City's reach with a desperate dive to claw away Christian Maggio's cross and made a another outstanding save, with his feet, as Lavezzi bore down on goal.Reuse content